Representation and legitimacy in collaborative freshwater planning — ASN Events

Representation and legitimacy in collaborative freshwater planning (16471)

Jim Sinner 1
  1. Cawthron Institute, Nelson, New Zealand

Collaborative processes are being promoted in New Zealand as a way to make freshwater planning less contentious and more efficient as well as more inclusive, and a number of such planning processes are now underway. However, the extent to which participants are directed to represent constituents varies by region, with some instructed to act only in the interests of the full community, while in other areas participants in collaborative planning processes are instructed to represent specific interests. Our research concerns the practices of representation and conduits for values of the community into planning fora and how these affect perceptions of legitimacy among the wider community.

Nissen (2014), based on a New Zealand study, argued that “descriptive representation” as practiced in some collaborative planning processes can act to exclude people from meaningful participation, especially when the selection process is not open and those selected are not accountable to those they are claimed to represent. Because of these shortcomings, Nissen argued that collaborative groups need to be kept at some distance from actual decision-making. However, this conclusion runs counter to some prominent scholarship on collaborative planning, which suggests that collaborative groups will be most effective when their decisions are binding.

We explore these competing propositions through focus groups in Canterbury, New Zealand by asking how community members feel they are being represented in collaborative groups undertaking freshwater planning.  We report how these views relate to concepts of representation and legitimacy in terms of input (procedural) and output (substantive outcomes) aspects.

We also consider the proposition that many members of the community do not have well-formed views but can be influenced by others in their social networks who do. This has important implications for how representation is done and ultimately how legitimacy is gained and lost. 

  1. Nissen S 2014. Who's in and who's out? Inclusion and exclusion in Canterbury's freshwater governance. New Zealand Geographer 70(1): 33-46.